What do teshuvah and STEAM have in common? Reflection, and study that leads to action.

This week we started a new year on the Jewish calendar.  In Jewish tradition, this time of year, the High Holiday period, is not only a time for looking forward to the year ahead but also a time of personal reflection.  We take stock of ourselves, through a process of heshbon hanefesh, personal accounting.  And once we have looked honestly at our actions and the lives we led in the previous year, then we can move forward with a plan for improvement, teshuvah.

I believe that the process of personal accounting and planning to improve that we do in preparation for and during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur parallels two of the big ideas that animate our approach to teaching and learning at Schechter Manhattan: reflection, and study leading to action.  Reflection is an important cultural marker of our school. We employ it in our teaching, by thinking carefully and critically about our practice so as to continue improving. We teach it to our students, by asking them to look carefully at their work and consider what they learn about themselves and what they want to work on further. And we use it for school improvement, by reviewing everything we do and taking seriously the feedback of our faculty, students, and parents.  All of this reflection allows us to identify goals and action steps so that we can continue on our continual path of growth.

Study at Schechter Manhattan is frequently connected to taking action.  Students learn about the importance of helping and giving to others, and then take action through community service projects.  They study the structure of well constructed arguments, and then employ them in debates. In the portfolio process, students identify action steps that they will take to achieve their goals.  And in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math, they explore content and skills, and then use what they know and can do to design and build real things.

The Lieberman Family STEAM Center brings reflection and study leading to action together in powerful ways.  STEAM learning starts with identifying authentic problems and challenges and then moves forward with bringing the knowledge and skills from those disciplines together to design and implement solutions.  STEAM learning includes careful reflection on designs, prototypes, and models, in an effort to find the weaknesses and errors in a solution, and to then create something new, effective, and elegant. When students work together through an iterative and reflective design process, they develop their reflection skills.  Then they apply those skills to solve real world problems: how to keep Central Park clean, how to build a vertical garden to grow in limited space, how to keep debris out of the sewer system, or how to design public space accessible to people of varied abilities, to name a few examples of STEAM design challenges students tackled last year.  This makes clear to students that their study in school is meant to connect to and have an impact on the world we live in.

This practice of reflecting with an eye towards improvement that students do in their work at school prepares them to do that same type of thinking in the more difficult and personal work of self-improvement that we focus on at this time of Jewish year.  The first sentence of the Schechter Manhattan Mission Statement reads, “Our mission is to ignite within our students a passion for learning and a commitment to translating ideas into meaningful action.” I believe that the work of the Lieberman Family STEAM Center, combined with study and practice of the Jewish traditions of heshbon hanefesh and teshuvah, gives Schechter Manhattan students opportunities to develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be both reflective and action-oriented people, and will help inspire their commitment to those ideals.

I wish for all of us a year in which our reflection, our honest acceptance of our strengths and challenges, leads to meaningful growth, for us, our students and children, and our school.

G’mar hatimah tovah!

Benjamin Mann
Head of School